Viking River Cruises take travelers through the heart of Europe and other timeless destinations.
Size does matter, at least in the world of cruise ships, but it doesn’t take Titanic alum to know bigger isn’t always better. Giant ocean liners can take people to touristic islands, but a smaller vessel can tackle the world’s great rivers like the Nile in Egypt, the Volga in Russia, the Rhone in France and the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia. One of the most highly regarded companies making this possible is Viking River Cruises.
Taking the 15-day Viking cruise between Budapest and Amsterdam, travelers are reminded that rivers were once the superhighways of the world, and a riverside location made many towns flourish in centuries past. The ship docks at picturesque towns during the day, but when it sails during breakfast and dinner times, oversized windows provide a constant stream of postcard-perfect images, including misty forests, castles and elegant chateaus. Vienna and Bratislava join the list of capital cities visited on this voyage, but more memorable stops occur in smaller towns in Austrian wine country and German Bavaria. As modern transportation made other cities more accessible, these once-important towns were essentially captured in time, allowing them to retain their historic character and repel a Ronald McDonald invasion.
Take, for example, Regensburg on the Danube River. It is one of the few German towns that didn’t get bombed back to the Middle Ages, which is actually when most of its structures were built. Bamberg, located on the Main River just west of the Czech Republic, also avoided heavy WWII bombing, giving it the largest ensemble of historic buildings in all of Germany. The town is equally famous for its smoked beer, made by drying malted barley over an open flame, giving the centuries-old brew a slight taste of bacon. Further up the river, the large town of Cologne features the Chocolate Museum, the 302-year-old Eau de Cologne scent and the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, the Dom, which supposedly contains the remains of the Three Wise Men.
Viking’s Grand European cruise is just one of its many Old World voyages, but seasoned travelers can also gravitate to more exotic and less accessible locales. For example, jetsetters might claim Moscow and St. Petersburg on their passports, but the 13-day Waterways of the Czars cruise also features the traditional village of Mandrogy, the UNESCO-stamped Kizhi Island and the Golden Ring cities of Uglich and Yaroslavl. For more ex-Soviet flavor, the 12-day Footsteps of the Cossacks cruise departs Kiev travelling through the Ukrainian heartland and into the Black Sea, anchoring in Odessa and the Crimean city of Yalta. Cities like Belgrade and Bucharest are also options with the 11-day Passage to Eastern Europe.
For those wishing to head further east, the 16-day Roof of the World air-and-river tour visits Beijing, Shanghai, Tibet and several lesser-known towns along the Yangtze, and the 15-day Magnificent Mekong cruises through Southeast Asia with stops in Phnom Penh (the one-time “Paris of the East”), the Angkor Wat temples (as seen in Tomb Raider) and Ho Chi Minh City (the city formerly known as Saigon). Viking also offers a taste of North Africa and the Middle East with Egyptian land-and-river tours spending up to 12 days exploring the Pyramids, temples and other grand structures along the Nile.
Viking, which sometimes uses ground transport to include cities like Prague and Berlin, started just 15 years ago with four Russian cruisers. Today, it’s the world’s largest river-cruise operator and now has countless ships with six new vessels debuting next year and additional four by 2014. This is a testimony to the company’s quality and success, but it also shows the growing interest in river cruises, which has led to other exciting itineraries. For example, AmaWaterways offers cruises through southern Africa, Uniworld has voyages down the Douro River Valley in Portugal and Spain, and Cruise West lets passengers make like Lewis & Clark with an Idaho-to-Oregon trip through Washington wine country. There are also a host of Amazon River cruises in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia.
So while ocean cruises have long been the norm and are great for locations such as Antarctica and the Galapagos, even those who’ve sworn off cruises should take a new look at river cruises. Companies like Viking give travelers the chance to experience intriguing cities on the very “roads” that helped make them great, providing unique access to the heart of some of the world’s great destinations.